By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 26, 2009
Parishes in the Atlanta Archdiocese are observing World AIDS Day.
A candlelight procession at Sacred Heart Church on Peachtree Street starts a Mass for people touched by HIV/AIDS. Organizers at the downtown church want to highlight the connection between the sufferings of Jesus and the suffering by people with the disease.
Also, St. Philip Benizi Church, where there has been an AIDS ministry for a dozen years, is hosting a World AIDS Day Ecumenical Prayer Service.
The World Health Organization established Dec. 1 as World AIDS Day in 1988. The day raises awareness and focuses attention on the global AIDS epidemic.
More than 1 million Americans are estimated to be living with HIV. In Georgia, some 34,000 people have been diagnosed with AIDS, reported from the beginning of the epidemic through 2007. Georgia ranks fifth among states for new cases of AIDS and eighth in the largest cumulative number of cases.
The archdiocese last June closed its AIDS ministry office as part of its reorganization. Parishes are now called to build their own outreach programs for people with AIDS.
John Patterson, a co-coordinator of the 15-member ministry at St. Philip Benizi, said the group invites people of all faiths to remember those who have been infected and the families and loved ones who care for them.
Conventual Franciscan Father John Koziol will lead the service. The event is sponsored by the parish AIDS ministry.
Patterson joined the ministry at its beginning. He said he joined because a friend, who had AIDS, was cast aside by family and friends. The person was “left alone in the hospital to die by themselves,” he said.
The ministry gets involved with fundraising, spiritual events and fellowship. Yearly, the group raises more than $1,000 to send two or three children touched by HIV/AIDS to a week of summer camp. It organizes a Way of the Cross observance during Lent. And its members prepare a Christmas dinner for residents of the Gift of Grace House, a home for women living with HIV/AIDS.
At Sacred Heart, Alan McGill, the director of faith formation and liturgy, said during the Mass people will have an opportunity to speak aloud the names of those who have died and the memorial quilt of those who have died will be placed in the sanctuary as a remembrance.
He said the purpose is to make more explicit the link between the Eucharist and suffering.
People are invited to wear red, the color of both martyrdom and the Holy Spirit, he said. The group “Hearts on Fire” will sing the hymns. Father T.J. Meehan, pastor, is to celebrate the Mass.